How are the creators of It Takes Two so creative?

The game It Takes Two is one of the most creative pieces of art I've seen, so full of variation and dense of content. Josef Fares is the director of the game and he often talks about "bringing out the creative monster" in people, but I felt he never specified exactly how he does that, and I wanted to know! So I went straight to the source, kind of, not to Josef himself, but to Oliver Granlund, design lead at Hazelight Studios, to get an answer on how they keep being so creative and innovative.

I'm fascinated by the creativity of It Takes Two and wonder how you do to allow yourselves to be so creative when it comes to level and gameplay design? Josef Fares talks about "bringing out the creative monster" in people but he doesn't specify how it's done, so... What would you say is the most important way of thinking and behaving to keep being as creative as possible?

Oliver Granlund:
It's a mix actually!

I think the first part is actually looking for something novel/new/intriguing in production. Many studios say they are looking for stuff like that, but their plan/goals don't align with it. We have weekly-ish updates where we show what we've done. And a big measuring point is it being unique or surprising! It's the biggest factor in us continuing a prototype.

The second part is small teams with autonomy. You may be 1-2 designers owning a level (2ish hours of gameplay). The induviduals get a huge amount of ownership and few restrictions. When creativity flows from one source (the classical director) it's limited by that person. But Josefs approach is closer to saying "You have one hour, create a f****ed up mechanic, do some cool twists. Also I want this level to be about sorrow." That allows induvidual creativity to spike, (and then shown and filtered through Josef) rather than the other way around.

A key sign is people who have left can still tell what parts were made by which person, because each designers identity is so strong (something most games try to shave away in favor of a smooth cohesive experience). We're all over the place, for better and worse. But it does bring out a huge amount of creativity!

Then the third part, is of course to nurture and have a talanted team. Not any team could make something unique given the chance! Those are the key aspects imo!

So, I guess Hazelight are more creative than everyone else because they prioritize creativity higher than almost everything else and talk about it all the time which makes it constantly top of mind for the people creating the game, and because they trust all separate people in the team to be creative by themselves without micro managing them.

Also, I was wrong about Josef Fares never specifying how he brings out the creative monster in people. He actually talks about it in almost every interview he does, just in different words. Here are some quotes:

"The culture here is that every day I say, ‘Let’s fuck shit up creatively.’" (source)

"The whole philosophy of Hazelight, and I say this a lot, is to fuck shit up. The whole idea is to keep pushing the team to a level where they don’t think they could actually be." (source)

"It sounds like I’m just being silly, but whenever somebody new starts at Hazelight, I tell them “It’s time lose all your brain cells.” What I mean by that is, what I really want people to understand, is that people are way more creative than they think. It’s about filling them with this confidence that there is this creative craziness within them that needs to come out.
So when I say “f*** s*** up,” I mean break the rules. Believe in your ideas. Don’t listen too much to others’ opinions, or become too dependent on what people say and think.
[...] So I say go outside your comfort zone. Do something that surprises you. Shock yourself. I think that’s a good approach."

(source)

And in the podcast "The AIAS Game Maker's Notebook" he mentions the exact phrase "bringing out the creative monster in people" and explains how he does it:

"I always tell the designers, throw your first, second, third ideas, go for the fourth one, because the first ideas are normally like the stuff you have seen, or done before, or stuff like that, you know. I think I'm very good at bringing out the creative monster in people, like I really push people like, come on, no no no, we gotta do this, we gotta do that, I push push push push, [...] and I think people surprise themselves on much creativity they have in them.
Podcast host: So how do you do that? [...]
Oh, I wish I could give you an example, cause I had just a moment like that with a designer. Okay, we had one designer working on something, and he showed me like a set piece (?) or a puzzle moment, and I told him: Look, when I look at this now, I feel like I have played this so many times. Okay, let's look at the same situation, but you twist it a little bit. And then I gave him an idea on how to look at that. It did exactly the same thing, but with a visual difference. And that is enough sometimes. Then suddenly it's a new crazy moment. And I think that like planting almost this creative seed of how to think and how to look at stuff, and suddenly they surprise themselves I think of what happens. [...] For me, and for us, I always say, let's try to see what we can do that haven't been done before.
(transcribed from audio, hopefully it's both readable and true to the source)

It's really nothing revolutionary. Josef Fares and Hazelight just believe in creativity and "fucking shit up" so very very much that it shows in the results.

Golden emails